New old house, ideas please...

lilybug46July 25, 2011

Hi all, I haven't been on here for awhile-years, actually. Recently(6 months ago)started checking out the Old House forum and loved the pics, ideas and interest in preserving elements of the past from the regular and new members here.

We just bought an old house(probably 100 yrs)and plan to gut it extensively and maybe return some old charm to it. It was turned into 3 apartments in the 1950's and then reno'd again in the 70's where they removed all old trim and features so the space now is fairly charm-free. The only things worth keeping inside are some panelled doors which require much paint stripping and with any luck we can salvage the main floor hardwood. We might be able to salvage some windows too that you can see in the pic.

Where we need help: would like to turn the side of the house(in pic) into the front by putting in a period door(where the 2 bottom windows are) with side lights and transom and a porch that would run the length. The explanation for this is; the front actually faces back of house(once it faced railway tracks no longer there)and does not have a front door or any redeeming features since the owners demo'd it. So as you can see, this is not a restoration but a re-jigging. What do you think? I'd like some ideas to give it period details-we plan on shuttering windows-maybe putting a larger window on the left. So very excited!

Here is a link that might be useful:

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my general advice is to be guided by historic photos, books, anything you can find. don't let contractors make design decisions for you. basic design principles like symmetry and massing have taken a back seat in recent years.

guides like what i'm linking to below can be helpful and are fairly common.

ANYHOW, to the questions at hand.

the view you provided is from the street, right? more pictures of the rest of the exterior would be helpful.

my first thought is to install a front porch that runs the length of the non-gabled part of the facade. so the front door would be where that middle lower window is. porch railing height should not extend above the bottom of the windows, so you'll need something shorter than a standard rail.

think about your color scheme and basic trim. some trim at the top of the gable that matches the rail and detailing of the front porch would look very nice.

it looks like you have original wood trim under there, expose that and get a nice, period appropriate paint job.

shutters, absolutely. make sure to install them so they actually function or could in theory. meaning don't put them outside the window casing.

in general, and depending on the setting, i'd go for a basic farmhouse look. simple door, simple trim, etc. in replacing the trim inside, think trimming yourself with trim built from 1x6s and some type of basic cap. it doesn't have to be super expensive to make a big difference.

just my random thoughts, hopefully some of that helped

oh and it looks like you need a new roof. think about a period-appropriate metal roof. it would look nice.

Here is a link that might be useful: city of sacramento design guidelines

    Bookmark   July 26, 2011 at 8:28AM
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Congratulations on your new home, and what a huge undertaking!
I love the idea of a porch across the ungabled part of the new front, and a door in the middle. Try to make your porch deep enough to be usable! New houses have terrible shallow porches that you can hardly sit out on. When planning the width, remember the posts and rails will take up some of it, about 6-8 inches on our porch.

I totally agree about the shorter railings but here is a warning about having period railings (height of the windows so they don't block the view from the house): code reaquirements! We are lucky that our house has the old rails still on the upper porch so they are grandfathered in. We had the lower missing ones replaced, custom made to match. But we just squeeked by because the downstairs porch deck is just under 30 inches from the ground. I must admit though, that as tall people, the low rails upstairs feel a bit unsafe. We are thinking of installing a cable (from a modern railing system) 4 or 5 inches above them, or some such thing that doesn't show much. You may be able to build substantial period height railings and then meet the code by doing some sort of similar less visible add on if your porch deck ends up being too high. We installed a stone walkway all around the porch from stone that dh dug up when he insulated the foundation. That helped with the height particularly since we were so close.

This is the only pic I could find easily. We have our table overhanging the rail so it looks a bit odd. Pic taken form down on the sidewalk. House is set up above the road.

We also had the skirts made to match the one good one that was left. On the back we just went with lattice. We bought an infrared paint remover and are in the process of removing the old paint and re-painting.
Any way, good luck and have fun.
I too would love to see more pics.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2011 at 10:50AM
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Best advice for new old house owners is do nothing for about a year. Just live in the house, clean the blazes of out it and let your ideas about what needs to be done settle in, and out. If the idea is a good one, and you have researched it well, it will still be good next spring/summer.

One of the most dangerous things for an old house is a new owner with ideas about bringing it back, or faking it up, and the primal need to do something to mark it as your own. Resist that if you possibly can. The house will tell its secrets in its own time. Gutting a house extensively and bringing back its old charm are often mutually contradictory.

Before you start rearranging the facade it would be best to study the original massing of the house so you understand how it was and why. It could be a farmhouse with an ell wing that eventually grew into the T shape, two story that you see now. Or it may have been a rectangular farmhouse that grew a side-gabled addition. Even though it has since been broken up into 3 dwelling units, it still will have a plan that you can figure out. My advice is don't go monkeying around with elevation, just yet. Figure out the bones, first. The end result will be cheaper, and more aesthetically pleasing if you do.

I'm not suggesting (as is usually the complaint) that you live in a "museum" house (whatever that means), but old houses do have an integrity and a social value that transcends their owners' interest, in my opinion. Something appealed to you about the house and its potential for charm, don't let that get bypassed in your haste to take action. Study, learn, and choose wisely what changes you make.

I live in a farmhouse in northern NY much older than yours, and we've owned it for decades and I am still discovering new things about it. The only things I regret about it were where I made hasty choices (out of ignorance - there was no old house forum/community) early on.

It would be fun to see other pictures of your house from all angles. I expect you might get useful info here from old house style experts who can help you "see" more about it. A good sketch of the interior would help too, as well as knowing the general region where the house is. (You can post the pics right in this thread to encourage more people to comment. See the Kitchen forum, READ ME thread for info on how to do that, if needed.)

Of course you can salvage your windows and likely your floor. The doors can be scraped and painted. What pretty white flowers were blooming when the picture was taken? Which side faces north on your house? Porch positioning and size is really dependant on that info.

Are you living in the house now? Do you have to move in right away? Generally old, unrestored, houses need extremely intense, thorough cleaning which is much easier done while empty, and much more tolerable, given the enormity of the job, when you can go home elsewhere and eat, sleep, and clean up.

Welcome to the old house club.


    Bookmark   July 26, 2011 at 6:01PM
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sage advice from liriodendron. i am always guilty of "itchy finger" syndrome or whatever you might call it. yet i have more success the times when patience and forethought dictated later actions.

the windows might be a good place to start, certainly they need work, and it will be something to do while you consider what else you'll do.

regarding replacement windows, i know many people with vinyl replacement windows yet very few who suggest that they made any substantial or worthwhile difference in the comfort of their home.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 8:10AM
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Thanks for the replies civ IV fan, concreteprimroses and liriodendron. The information and insight you've offered is much appreciated. I posted more pics as requested in the link below. I'll give you more background info on how the house is situated so you'll get an idea of the uniqueness of this property.
The house is on almost 1/2 acre on an l-shaped lot in the middle of a residential neighborhood(split-levels and ranches)that grew up around it in the 60's. The house sits way back off the street so it's barely visible from there with a long driveway up to it. The pic labelled front facing is what you drive up to but it was the back of the house originally as the front faced the railway tracks no longer there. Pic labelled front/back is the original front of the house but has had some add-ons that we'll likely take off. I see no point in maintaining it as the front since it faces a park and is so obviously far from the street and driveway. It faces north btw.

The back of the house(now the front that faces driveway)is pretty unsightly as you can see. We plan on eventually putting in a garage to the left of the house, tearing off the crappy porch and deck and putting in a door to access the house. That's all the thought we've put towards the front so if you have some ideas, please suggest them:) I don't want this to look like an afterthought as it is your first view when you come up the drive but I'm sort of at a loss here.
The reason we are not thinking of making the front the actual front is because the side of the house(original pic)-directly right of front seems to offer more opportunity for beautification. The side faces a wide and long expanse of lawn surrounded by huge mature trees-this view is beautiful. For this reason, we'd like to add a porch so we can sit out and enjoy it. We also think there should be a proper front door here since the door on the 'real' front would go from a mudroom to kitchen-not a great entrance IMO.

To the right of the front is perfect for a path leading to the side of the house(new front). Your eye is immediately drawn there anyway when you get a glimpse of the trees and lawn. I think we can get away with this re-jigging as this property is unique to this neighborhood and is set fairly far apart from other nieghbors.

Our intention(husband & I) is to work on this in our own time-we will do much of the work ourselves-will get trades for heating, plumbing and electrical but will do much of the demo and re-build ourselves. We extensively renovated our current older(1920)home so have much experience with the work. We will live in our current home until this one is at a habitable level-6 mos. to a year. We'll start indoors now and then move to exterior in spring 2012. It may seem like jumping the gun to think about the exterior now but if we turn the side into the front it will obviously effect the interior space configuration-there's a bathroom currently where we'd like to put the front door.
I should also point out that our goal for the interior is to open it up more not to restore it to what it was originally-it has been butchered so many times that it's beyond that. Besides, restoring it will likely mean returning it to small rooms and chopped up spaces-not what we're after. Hopefully, that doesn't offend :) We'd like to return period detail in the form of trim(moulding, baseboards), fixtures(lighting, knobs,handles, sinks, tubs, etc) and will likely get most of these items from salvage yards. I like the idea of going for the look of a simple farmhouse as cv IV fan suggested. We have no intention of tarting it up to make it look 'Victorian' or something it is not. The most decoration it will have will be shutters probably.

Some additional questions for you: Both Cv IV fan and concreteprimroses suggested running the porch up to the gabled part of the house-is this because it would be historically accurate? Because it creates a natural end where the gabled part sticks out? Would it be unseemly to wrap that porch around(including the gabled part)to the back(old front)of the house? Just an idea I'm kickin' around.
What can I do with the leaded glass windows in the back porch?(see pic) Most of them are broken and ones that aren't are buckling. Would like to salvage them somehow.

I'd like to address the info and suggestions you've given me: the city of Sacramento design guidelines from cv IV fan is a good ref. guide for basic principles which I intend to follow even though I live in Eastern Canada(Ontario but close to Buffalo, N.Y border). My roof btw was replaced 3 years ago-the roof over the porch needs to be replaced but we'll just tear that off.
We'll probably just tack up the asbestos siding shingles that have fallen off, clean 'em up and in a few years time, remove them and figure out what to do then.

Concreteprimroses, I love the railing ideas and will definately make the porch wide enough to use comfortably-I know what you mean about some porches that are tiny-add-ons with barely room for a chair.
Good advice liriodendron about allowing the house to reveal itself to us in time and also to clean the heck out of it. There are tree branches snaking through several windows and I think a raccoon might be living upstairs-eek!
Regarding the lovely white flowers at the front-the pic was taken in the spring-they're tulips. Unfortunately, the city was called in by neighbors to mow the property since the delinquent owners before us neglected to do so. The city mowed over every garden on the property. I'm a hort. person so I'll be digging the poor tulips up and re-planting them somewhere they won't be damaged further. There are a few good salvageable trees, bushes and perennials that I will likely keep but much is overgrown and weedy-property has been abandoned pretty much for 5 years. Incidentally, the property developer who bought it had plans to build 5 townhouses on the property but his builder died so he's been trying to sell it for since. The price he agreed to sell it to us at is considerably less than what he paid for it 5 years ago-depressed market.
Anyway, it seems our new neighbors are happy that the land won't be developed and a single family will move in.
Sorry this is so long!

Here is a link that might be useful: house

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 11:12AM
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If it were me I'd hit the historical society looking to see if you couldn't find some old pics of the place in it's prime.
I'd also be looking very carefully at similar style homes in the area for tips on what your house might have looked like at one time.
Sometimes knowing who lived in a house before you did and what they did for a living can give you insight as to why things are they way they are in the house.
For example the man who built our house, his wife's family were well known merchants and trade down south. I have two pillars out in front of my house that are atypical for the area. Could not for the life of me figure out why anyone would build them the way they did. A chance trip to New Orleans and we found what was atypical here was typical down there.
They either imported help from the south to build the pillars or decided they liked the look and had it copied here by locals.
Really look at your house. Study it. Talk to old timers in the area who might have grown up near the house.
I think I'd sit down and make a master plan complete with drawings of what I want the place to look like when I was done.
If you can afford it I'd seriously consider doing the garage first. Having that extra space to work in and store stuff could really be handy.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2011 at 3:26PM
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okay, i think i understand the orientation. making the long side the formal front offers more promise, i agree. however, i'm still not clear where that long side actually faces. if it faces your neighbors and not the street, it would seem a little strange to have it become the formal entrance.

my thought with not wrapping the porch was that the gabled area is a natural breaking point and to some extent ending the porch will trick people like me into not noticing that is the old front of the house. because when i look at the side picture now, my eye is drawn right to that gable and then i think, oh the front of the house is that way - to the right, so i must be looking at the broad side of the house.

if anything, and again i hope i am looking at the picture right, consider wrapping the porch around to the left or the street-side facing part of the house, helping to define the entrance areas.

what my eye REALLY wants to see is the gabled part to bump out, so that the porch isn't a dead stop with nothing on the other side but instead has a stopping point defined by the structure. either a flat bump out or creating a substantial bay up both stories would accomplish this. the flat bump would be more appropriate for a farmhouse look. but that is a pretty major undertaking, but could be worthwhile, both from the exterior perspective and if you need to create a little extra space inside - that would be the way to do it.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2011 at 8:29AM
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Oooh, okay, now you've got me thinking cv IV fan!

I do see what you mean about not wrapping the porch around to the old front(back)but maybe wrapping it around the front that faces the driveway. As you said, this would create a more defined entranceway to the side of the house where I did think a more formal entrance would be nice. As I previously stated, the side faces an open but still sheltered space-big yard/ lawn with mature trees-nearest neighbor is only really visible through the trees and from a bit of a distance.

Coincidentally, this neighbors home is one of the few old farmhouse-types left in this neighborhood on a similar large lot surrounded by tall trees that doesn't relate to the other homes(ranches)in the neighborhood. From what I've learned from the old nextdoor neighbor; these farm homes(about 4-5 left)were part of an original family farm estate where different family members lived in each one of them-a few were sold off and land was redeveloped-was cherry farms before residential neighborhood. Anyway, this one home that backs on to our property seems to have the look we'd like we'd like to aspire to. We haven't had a good look at it but it has similar shape with white siding, black shutters and cute yellow awnings(not so sure about them). I think we'll try to take some pics of this home without alarming the owner, of course!

Back to the side of house as front-maybe I need to reconsider the treatment of the formal entrance because it actually faces just yard. Instead of a period door with sidelights and transom, should I go for more casual french doors instead? Just throwing it out there. The yard will ultimately be where we'll entertain and we'll likely place a patio for barbecue at the back(old front) of the house so it will have a more informal back-yard feel anyway.

Perhaps, it's time to look at the front facing the driveway and turn it into a more-pleasing front entrance. Problem is there are cellar steps going to a basement entrance just below that red rickety deck we'll remove. Is it worth it to keep this cellar entrance open? I always thought it was pretty cool but if it interferes with a porch build-should we just block off the entrance? I understand the original owner was a market gardener and used the cellar for keeping his pickles and produce so the access to the entrance was convenient and necessary. I won't necessarily have the same need for it-do intend to grow alot of veggies for storage but it may be enough to access it from inside the house. What a dilemma! Every idea just raises more questions! I appreciate you all being patiant with my rambling posts! There's just so much to consider.

Cv, re: bumping out the gabled part on the side-I don't think we'll be doing that-probably too much money and work for right now. Besides, we actually have a bumped out part on the other side of the house(no pics)which has a lovely bow window which will be in our living room. It might be something we do later. For now, we'll just end the porch at it and landscape it nicely to soften the abrupt end of it.
Please keep the ideas coming and thanks so much!

    Bookmark   July 28, 2011 at 10:48AM
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If I can figure this out, the photo with the small deck and bump out faces the drive? If this were to become the front entry, the bump-out would go, and I see a full width porch going around to both sides, the entry door could be where the small window is now. If the cellar entrance is under this deck, you could put a trap door in the porch floor to access it, or just leave it covered.

What might make things easier, is a site plan--just a simple sketch showing the lot, the shape of the house, and a compass. Mark the drive, and maybe say what the room is at each window--no need to draw them, just say 'This window is in kitchen, etc.'

With your terminology, I'm finding it hard to orient myself to even the house shape, let alone it's lot position. You can use Paint to do a simple drawing--I've done it with my house interior, and uploaded it to my web pic provider.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2011 at 12:02PM
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i would not do the sidelight transom thing on the side of the house if you add a door on the broad side of the house. i think a nice, period, 1/2 glass (better yet leaded glass) door would look great and blend with the house.

a nice compromise between the "front" (driveway) and side entrance would be to wrap around a porch anchored by a simple gazebo on the corner.

i'm still thinking about what seems to me to be the front of the house - the narrow part by the driveway. the windows are a little too close together and it messes with the symmetry when you try to fix the door area at the bottom. if you can get away with doubling the width of those two 2nd floor windows, you could add a new front door as well as a new window on the first floor it would look balanced. maybe we're getting a little too far out there in terms of cost though, but that would approach a true fix, in my opinion.

obviously these are all just MY opinions, and different tastes are what make the architectural world so dynamic and interesting.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2011 at 1:21PM
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Okay, so I'm looking at all your suggestions here-I guess I need to provide a drawing or 2 or site-map so you'll get a clear idea what we're dealing with. I'll see what I can do.

I agree with you civ IV fan that the two windows at the front are too close together to really do much with, i.e: shutters. Would it be better to space them further apart(if possible)to accomodate shutters or what about one larger window(in place of the 2)with shutters or would this look funny? I agree the door should probably be situated below the windows so it looks symetrical.

Although we haven't firmly decided anything yet, we'll likely wrap the porch from the front along the side of the house facing the yard. There's not enough room, columbusguy1 to wrap the porch on the other side too(not enough feet, too close to neighbors fence.

Husband still wants to put in a larger door with more presence on the long side, I have to agree-I think the space warrants it. Either french doors or a single panelled door with window-reclaimed, hopefully.

Columbusguy1, thanks for the suggestion of putting a trap door in the porch to access the cellar stairs. We were wondering how to treat that area and that seems like an easy fix.

Thanks very much.

    Bookmark   August 1, 2011 at 8:25AM
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i've been thinking about your house and screwing around with those 2nd floor windows is probably overkill. with some proper articulation and a nicely-done porch with roof, it will look awesome without changing window openings.

here are some inspiration pictures. in particular note how the gable area is articulated with different colors and materials. also note how they work with the small attic vent / window.

shutters won't look right on those windows unless you did combine them into one large opening. the general rule with shutters is, "if they wouldn't cover the window when closed, they don't belong."

link one

link two

    Bookmark   August 1, 2011 at 9:56AM
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Wow, thanks civ Iv fan!!!The links help alot and make me realize that shutters aren't the only answer to prettying-up the front a bit. I'm also a firm believer in 'if they wouldn't cover the window when closed, they don't belong.' It would look ridiculous if we tried to shutter them! Those two windows are like eyes too close together-you wouldn't want to draw too much attention to them. Ha, ha!
These windows are actually fairly new too so I wouldn't really like to have to replace them. Good to know I can work with them.

I like the darker trim colour on the windows of the green house plus that neat detail at the gable. Very pretty yet simple. Both pics have nice porches too which I can see at the front of ours and wrapped along the side.

Update: my husband,(since lunch) now thinks we should treat the side as the backyard, which it really is or will be since it faces the largest expanse of lawn. Wants to put attention to making the front nice-looking-good, me too! Still wants to put in a nice door on the long side but we're thinking French doors now-I think that side needs a bit beefing up with detail but I guess if we keep the front simple then the rest of the house look should follow, right? So, no shutters on the rest? I'm guessing, it would look stupid. It wouldn't be following the 'Pioneer Tent Stle' of architecture as the blue house in link 2 indicates.

Is that what style mine is?

    Bookmark   August 1, 2011 at 3:01PM
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see if the link below works for you. it is a street in vancouver with several houses in a row that have a street-facing style that would be generally workable with your house.

the reason i am looking to these sort of urban narrow-lot houses is that they were designed to have the narrow side of the house facing the street and decorated as such - so they give a lot of ideas for beautifying a narrow, front-gabled, front entrance.

i feel like shutters on the side still work if you want to go that route. typically, they wouldn't be present but typically the house would sit on a narrow lot. so i say go for it. i think you'll get a lot more style bang for your buck out of nicely articulating all the gables and featuring strong exterior window casing and trim.

Here is a link that might be useful: google maps

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 9:30AM
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Nice pics Civ, though I don't like the added height of the railings in the second link. :)

Lily, it occurred to me that you could put a corner entrance to the porch if you wrap it around the front and long side of the has a shed roof on the front and side, but at the corner where they would meet, it turns into a triangular gable, with steps to the ground at that point, at a 45 degree angle to the house. My great-great grandfather's house has that detail on two corners of it's porch--alas, house is still there, but the porch is gone--but I have a picture of it taken about 1913.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 1:28PM
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Thanks, civ! I like the links(they worked for me)-they've given me lots of inspiration for colour and detail. I actually like link 2's porch and railing a bit better than link 1's. Link 2 seems more substantial(esp.pillars) to me. The colour choices in link 1, however, are more interesting to me. The google maps of the street in BC offer up more variety too as far as colour choices and porch styles.
Still may go with shutters on the side-it may look incongruous with the front but we have some time to think and decide. I imagine if the shutter colour isn't too high contrast with the house colour, it wouldn't stand out too much like a sore thumb.

Anyway, won't be dealing with exterior detail until next spring, sadly.

Husband likes the ideas and pics you guys have given us! I knew you wouldn't let me down!

columbusguy, I'd be interested in seeing the pic of your great, great grandfather's house or someone else's who has this corner entrance and porch-the detail sounds really interesting.

Now, what to do with old leaded-glass windows and uncovering an old well to use to water my garden????

Any takers??!!

    Bookmark   August 3, 2011 at 2:13PM
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I've been pondering your question for a while. I live near the street that Civ posted (just wandered through one of those houses during an open house a couple of weeks ago, as a matter of fact). Perhaps we're neighbours, or is that street so famous?

In any event, I come from that narrow house aesthetic, and as such, at first it seemed to me that to put a porch with an entrance on the long side of the house, you should put it ON the gable part. But you want a long porch, so you would have to juggle that idea a bit. Maybe a door in the gable section with a porch the full length of the house. Definitely a nice wide one, then.

Putting the door on the street side also appeals to me for the same reason - it's narrow, and it looks like a door with a porch across belongs there.

But you have referenced the indoor layout, and I think that the indoor layout is what should drive your decision making here. We have no entranceway to speak of inside, and I find that very difficult - overall, in fact, our very original old house is very difficult to live in. Regarding the outside, you can put a porch or deck wherever you want, attached to wherever you put your entrance - wrap-around, corner stairway, what have you. But what your entrance leads to inside will affect you every day, all the time, and I think I would prioritize making that work.


    Bookmark   August 6, 2011 at 2:39PM
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Hi Karin,
Thanks for your input. We will put a porch on the front and front door entrance. I do intend to have a small mudroom to enter into there before you enter the house. We have this on our current home and for us, it's a necessary space for keeping recycle bins, snow shovels, brooms, coats, boots and other handy items for use outdoors. I know what you mean about homes without an entrance where you open a door and walk right in to the living room-not a fan of this.
We haven't decided yet to do a wrap-around porch from front to side. We'll start with the front porch and see where that gets us. It may be a situation where we do a little at a time depending on money. We will put a door(s) in the middle of the side and design our interior layout around this but there may be just a small walk out until we're ready for a full porch.
Can't wait to get in there and start tearing down!

    Bookmark   August 8, 2011 at 2:34PM
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